Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia is well-known for its silence and use of soft diplomacy, but its silence has limits. If Saudi Arabia’s policy is based on non-intervention in the affairs of Gulf States then Riyadh views others interfering in its own internal affairs as an unbreakable “red line.”
This explains the statement that was issued by the Saudi government in response to the multiple provocations that have been made by the Swedish government and its Foreign Minister Margot Wallström. Today, relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Sweden have reached their lowest ebb due to Stockholm poking its nose into the Saudi judicial system and issuing accusations against it.
This is not the first time that Riyadh has demonstrated that it does not accept any interference in its internal affairs, and rejects any encroachment on its sovereign rights, including accusations against the independence and integrity of its judiciary. Saudi officials have always repeated that they have no influence over judicial decisions, while confirming that all legal cases heard in Saudi courts, without exception, are dealt with consistently, fairly and without discrimination. Saudi Arabia does not accept, in any way, shape or form, any individual or state moving against it in the name of human rights, particularly as its constitution is based on the holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (practices of the Prophet Muhammad) that guarantee human rights.
The accusations prompted the Saudi cabinet to denounce the insulting statements that were issued by the Swedish foreign minister—which represented a criticism of the provisions of a judicial system based on Islam and insinuations against its positive social foundations. The Saudi government said that Stockholm’s comments “ignore facts and the great progress made by the Kingdom on all levels, including women’s rights in all fields,” such as education, employment, healthcare and the economy.
We can go further and say that the Swedish position was not just provocative towards Saudi Arabia, but also provoked the sentiments of Muslims across the world given that the Kingdom applies Islamic Shari’a law. More importantly, nobody has authority over judicial decisions in Saudi Arabia except the provision of Islamic Shari’a law itself.
Speaking in Geneva, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN Faisal Bin Hassan Trad said: “Saudi Arabia was one of the earliest countries to support the principles of human rights and respect all of the conventions of international law in accordance with Islamic Shari’a law. Despite these clear efforts, some international parties have unfortunately voided the principle of human rights and moved to politicize and exploit this in order to infringe on and attack the sovereign rights of another state while at the same time turning a blind eye to all the crimes that are being committed in full-view of the world towards the people of Syria, Palestine and Burma. It is as if human rights have become a selective issue to serve political agendas, and this is something that is completely rejected by the Kingdom.”
While in a cabinet statement on Monday, Saudi Arabia confirmed that “ensuring the independence of the judiciary is an immutable principle and a main basis for protecting and promoting human rights. Saudi Arabia’s judiciary, based on Islamic law, has ensured justice for all, under which all are equal and have the right to litigate and receive their rights. The judiciary in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia enjoys absolute independence; no authority is above the judiciary but the authority of Islamic law. The freedom of expression is guaranteed for all in the context of Islamic law. Therefore, incorrect allegations should not be brought in cases of personal rights between individuals, taking such cases out of their judicial context.”
Saudi diplomacy, which has always followed a policy of “soft power” and particularly towards European states, cannot accept the recent interference by the Swedish foreign minister who commented on the judicial decision issued against blogger Raif Badawi. Riyadh used its powers to retract an invitation that had been issued to the Swedish foreign minister to give a speech before the Arab League in Cairo last month, expressing its dismay at the manner in which some media outlets and international bodies are dealing with the issue of Raif Badawi and the judicial decision that has been issued against him. At the time, Riyadh confirmed that it does not accept, under any circumstances, foreign interference in its internal affairs, including questions over the independence and integrity of its judiciary.
Raif Badawi, aged 31, was born in Al-Khobar in 1984. He is married and has three children. An activist and blogger, he founded the Saudi Free Liberals Forum in 2006. He was arrested on February 17, 2012, and his case was transferred to the criminal court. He was accused and convicted of cybercrimes, as well as insulting Islam.
In response to the latest controversy, Saudi legal expert and head of the Euro Arab Center for Studies Dr. Saleh Al-Tayyar told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Sweden has violated international law by interfering in the judicial affairs of a foreign state. This interference came in response to an invitation for the Swedish foreign minister to give a speech at the Arab League in Cairo being retracted at the request of Saudi Arabia.”
“Saudi Arabia respects its international obligations towards human rights, particularly Article II of the UN Charter. Freedom of expression, as well as all other freedoms, is enshrined in the Kingdom, provided that these do not infringe on the freedoms and rights of others,” he added.
The Saudi legal expert also spoke about the judicial system in Saudi Arabia. He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “This system is based on Islamic principles, and the Kingdom applies the law to all who carry out crimes . . . sentencing is fully codified.”
Tayyar said: “Some human rights organizations, for example, condemn corporal punishment of any sort including the death penalty which is something that exists in the Kingdom . . . But fail to take into account that Saudi Arabia has the only judicial system in the world that grants a defendant every and all means of defense. Death sentences cannot be applied until they are authorized by the highest court, while judgments can even be reserved. Death sentences can only be passed if three presiding judges reach a consensus that the sentence is in accordance with the holy Qur’an. While the sentence is not carried out until every effort is made to reach an agreement with the family of the victim regarding the payment of blood money.”
He stressed that this series of contingencies ensures that the Kingdom has “the strongest human rights system in the world.”
As for dangerous crimes that affect national security, Tayyar said that laws have been put in place in order to protect the general public; these laws were only drafted after passing through a succession of legislative committees ensuring their legitimacy and legality.
While Saudi lawyer Ibrahim Al-Bahri told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Sweden’s intervention in the legislative system of any other state is illegal. International conventions do not grant any state the right to interfere in the judicial system of another state.”
He said: “Islamic Shari’a law in the Kingdom enjoys complete independence, and is not affected by these external pressures,” but acknowledged that Saudi judicial judgments require greater clarification in order to help the general public understand them.
“Some states intervene in these judicial decisions because they don’t understand our judicial system and its context and legitimacy,” he added.
Bahri said: “The Swedish official is not aware of the details of the ruling against Badawi. The Saudi judiciary did not convict him because he launched a website, rather this was based on his breach of religious principles, which included breaching the rights of others, and this is the basis of the law across the world.”
As for Sweden announcing that it was canceling its military cooperation with Saudi Arabia, according to the figures this will hurt Stockholm more than it does Riyadh. It will not affect Saudi Arabia’s ability to develop its military forces, while Sweden was perhaps seeking to secure a media victory with its announcement in this manner. Despite this, Stockholm will inevitably be the bigger loser with regards to future bilateral business dealings, particularly given the balance of trade between Saudi Arabia and Sweden.
Riyadh reacted strongly to Sweden’s provocative statements and interference in its domestic affairs, while the message has certainly reached all other Western states who might think about interfering in the internal affairs of another state under the pretext of human rights. These states insist on framing human rights issues in the same manner that they are viewed in their own countries, as if every country in the world is obliged to implement the Western concept of human rights, without any regard for cultural differences. This is not to mention the double standards regarding the human rights abuses that are taking place in Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Iran.